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Cambodia: “Tremendous challenges in delivering justice for all,” says UN human rights expert

PHNOM PENH (17 June 2010) – “The judiciary in Cambodia is facing tremendous challenges in delivering justice for the people of the country, especially the poor and marginalised,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya Prasad Subedi, at the end of his ten-day fact-finding mission on the functioning of the judiciary.

“There is an alarmingly high number of people in detention due to various shortcomings in the criminal justice system, and the instances of miscarriage of justice are far too numerous,” warned the independent expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to assess the human rights situation in Cambodia, report publicly about it, and work with the Government, civil society and others to foster international cooperation in this field.

While welcoming the adoption of a series of new laws designed to strengthen the system of justice, Mr. Subedi warned that “a combination of a lack of adequate resources, organisational and institutional shortcomings, a lack of full awareness of the relevant human rights standards, and external interference, financial or otherwise, in the work of the judiciary, has resulted in an institution that does not command the confidence of people from many walks of life.”

The UN Special Rapporteur raised specific concerns relating to the judiciary’s role in protecting freedom of expression, and the narrowing of political space for critical debate in society, “due to the disproportionate use of defamation, disinformation and incitement lawsuits against journalists, human rights activists and political opponents.”

Mr. Subedi also expressed his preoccupation regarding cases involving land-related rights: “I am troubled by the impact of land disputes, land concessions and resettlements on the lives of ordinary people, both in rural and urban areas.”

“I call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to introduce appropriate measures to enhance the independence and capacity of the judiciary to enable it to function as an institution capable of providing justice to all in Cambodia,” the Special Rapporteur said. “If you are poor, weak and dispossessed of your land, you seem to have limited chance to obtain redress either through existing administrative land management systems, or through the courts.”

The human rights expert noted the achievements made by Cambodia in a number of areas, and encouraged the Government to push ahead with its programme of action to enhance and strengthen the judiciary and to improve the situation of human rights.

“Cambodia is one of very few countries which have accepted all recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism earlier this year. The time has come for the Government to come up with a strict time-table to implement these recommendations in a meaningful manner,” noted Mr. Subedi while offering his assistance in this regard.

During his visit, the UN independent expert had an audience with King Norodom Sihamoni, and met with members of the Royal Government, members of the judiciary and other representatives of the main institutions involved in legal and judicial reform and the administration of justice, as well as ordinary users of the courts, civil society actors and development partners involved in the sector.

In September, Mr. Subedi will submit a report including recommendations for judicial reform in Cambodia to the UN Human Rights Council.

Surya P. Subedi is a Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds, UK, a Barrister in England, and an Advocate in Nepal. The Special Rapporteur was appointed in 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council to follow and report on the human rights situation in Cambodia.

OHCHR Country Page – Cambodia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/KHIndex.aspx